Ford Same-Sex Harassment Case Allowed to Proceed

January 23, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Michigan state appellate court has ruled that a state anti-discrimination law does cover same-sex harassment in its prohibitions against a hostile work environment.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals still sent the suit by a Ford manufacturing employee back to the Wayne County Circuit Court so more evidence could be gathered about whether the male co-worker accused of harassment acted out of sexual desire or was generally hostile to males in the workplace.

In ruling on the appeal by Ford in the case involving worker Robert Robinson, the appellate panel asserted that because the Michigan Civil Rights Act (MCRA), like Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act, prohibits discrimination because of sex in the terms or conditions of employment, the MCRA language would cover same-sex hostile environment claims. Robinson, who worked installing truck hoods in a Ford Michigan auto plant between 2001 and 2003, contended that the sexual harassment by the male co-worker went on during that whole period.  

The appellate judges turned aside Ford’s argument that the MCRA phrase forbidding contact “of a sexual nature” only covers actual sexual relations and that because the co-worker was heterosexual, his behavior could not have involved homosexual advances or desire and was not of a sexual nature. The Court of Appeals noted that the law prohibits “physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature” that interferes with the plaintiff’s employment.

Ford claimed the conduct described in Robinson’s suit actually constituted horseplay between two men and that the MCRA would not apply. However , the appellate court found that Robinson’s list of alleged offenses – that included ample contact with sexual organs – was sufficient for a jury to find that the co-worker’s conduct pertained to sex.

Except for the instruction to gather more evidence of whether the co-worker’s actions were motivated by sexual desire, the appellate court upheld a lower court decision permitting Robinson’s suit to move forward.

The ruling in Robinson v. Ford Motor Co.,Court of Appeals of Michigan, No. 271395 is here .

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